Mortal Remains tells the story of the life, career and mysterious death of Karl Atticus, a legendary and controversial horror director. The award-winning independent film is being released on DVD and VOD (iTunes/VUDU) this fall. I had a chance to speak with co-directors Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis about the concept, efforts to help generate interest, and the challenges in combining found footage with a documentary format.
HorrorGeekLife: For people who aren’t familiar, can you talk a little about the story in Mortal Remains?
Christian Stavrakis: All right. It’s a movie about a movie and Mortal Remains is the name of the horror movie within the movie. Of course, Mortal Remains, the movie within the movie, is based on a book called Mortal Remains. It operates on many levels of cinematic reality and you can buy into it as much as you want to, or just watch it for the good time that hopefully it is. It’s about a filmmaker who was making horribly violent movies back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The films he was making had been sort of lost and brushed under the carpet, and there may be a reason for this. Mark and I play a couple of investigative cinematic-type fellows who go looking for this guy’s lost movie, but what we uncover about him along the way indicates we should not be trying to dig this story up.
HorrorGeekLife: Have you seen a new interest in Karl Atticus? Is he building his own reputation outside of the legend?
Christian Stavrakis: There is a page on our web site that says “Join the Cult.” The idea was to put a sticker with a picture of Karl someplace like Graceland, or somewhere like that, and we keep getting emails from people saying they want to join the cult. One guy wrote, “Praise Satan. I want to join the cult.” We said, “Thank you, light your candles and we’ll send you some stickers.”
Mark Ricche: We’ve had a great response. It’s all about trying to get the word out about your film in any way possible in order to attract attention. We were trying different campaigns and Join the Cult is the one that kind of stuck. We would send people a sticker that says, “Do you remember Karl Atticus?” We would ask them to take a photo of it and post them on social media and on our website. We had people with Karl in France near Notre Dame, in Graceland near Elvis’ house, New Zealand, New York. Yeah, that is exciting to have that kind of reach; that somewhere out there somebody has either seen the film or at least heard about Karl.
Christian Stavrakis: Especially with a film on the scale of ours. One article called us microbudget, or micro indie, and that is very true. We are kind of under the radar and off the map. It’s nice that even so…people are contacting us for more information.
HorrorGeekLife: Even with the budget, you still tell an amazing story. Were you surprised at the awards and the positive reception Mortal Remains received at festivals?
Mark Ricche: Yes and no, I guess. I did a lot of research on festivals to enter that would give us an edge, so the fact we ended up walking away with an award or two was not a shock to me, but then we got four awards in four different categories. That was a bit shocking to me. I thought we would see consistency across the board, like best screenplay at two different festivals, and that would be the end of it. So I am kind of shocked we managed four separate categories.
Christian Stavrakis: To go back to best editing (Terror Film Festival, 2013), Mark really hit it on the head. It took a while to get the balance right. We had two stories in two different formats. One was the documentary format. The original screenplay was written entirely that way and the found-footage component — we were sort of compelled to add by a friend [at a studio] who said you got to give the audience something to latch on to and connect with. That was where we had to sort of find the balance.
HorrorGeekLife: With the DVD release and the VOD distribution, what are you hoping new audiences take away from it?
Mark Ricche: I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the found footage genre. I respect it a lot more now, having done a found footage film. It’s not easy. You do have to justify why the camera is on, every time you turn the thing on and aim it.
Chris Stavrakis: The downfall of a lot of found footage films is they don’t explain why the camera is rolling. Why is this scene or conversation on film at all?
Mark Ricche: I hope the new audience that sees this film appreciates that aspect of the found footage component, even if they’re not a found footage fan. The other thing is it’s reality and mythos. We often get people who are watching it and then, while the film’s going on, they’re looking on their phones and searching Karl Atticus on Wikipedia or “Who in the hell is Vernon Blake?” They want to learn more and justify whether or not this is reality. We get a real kick out of that.
Christian Stavrakis: We’ve gotten a few written responses at a screening here in town and a few by email. Some people said, “I knew nothing about this movie and I sat down and watched it. You really constructed a great story and I can see where you are going with this.” That’s what I find the most gratifying of all, when people say they get it and get where we’re coming from and appreciate it for what it is. But there are people who expect something completely different. I know Mark went up and screened it for young folks in New Jersey and they didn’t get it all. They were like, “I thought this was a slasher movie about this guy.” I guess it depends on what you expect to take from it. But those responses where people say, “Wow, I totally get it.” And especially those who say this kind of hearkens back to the movies of the 80’s, that sort of really touches my heart because we grew up watching that stuff. I don’t consciously see an 80’s component or feel to the film, but I guess it is just there by virtue of who we are and the way we made it. So I hope people see it in that fashion and appreciate it the way the other viewers did.